Southern Utah News Articles
Full of hot air and loving it
At the 15th annual Lake Powell Balloon Regatta, I went on my first hot air balloon ride and it was fantastic. It was amazing, exhilarating, and so unbelievably peaceful once you are up in the air. No matter how many adventures you undertake, you’ll never forget a ride in a hot air balloon. The epic views of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam are just icing on the cake.
We woke up at the butt crack of dawn (that is, we woke up extremely early), and headed to the Lake Powell National Golf Course in Page, Arizona, to see if we could join someone’s crew and hopefully make it into the air.
As luck would have it, organizers were directing both volunteers looking to help with balloon set-up/take-down, and crew looking for help getting their rigs ready for flight.
It was a match made in heaven as we were corralled by pilot Tom Robinson, of Gallup, New Mexico, over to his trailer for a safety briefing. We listened with wide eyes, eager to unravel the balloon and get the show on the road. Anyone who has flown or helped get a balloon prepped for flight will agree when I say that it is quite a bit of work. But once you see that big old canvas bag fill up and the flight basket straighten up, it is quite a rush. Tom directed two of us to hop into the basket. I muttered an expletive under my breath as I wasn’t one of the chosen ones.
The sight of 40-60 balloons in the air over the red rocks, coupled with the grass fairways of the Lake Powell National Golf Course, was mesmerizing. It was quite the process to watch our balloon go from a heap of fabric on the grass to a spectacular, colorful round balloon. Being a rank amateur, I was slow on the trigger to take photos of the scene that was unfolding before my eyes. Our “chase car” tailed the balloon to its to be determined by Mother Nature destination.
The balloon slowly drifted back down to earth and stuck the landing right in the middle of the grass fairway. Before the chase car came to a complete stop, I was hopping out the door and sprinting to the stationary balloon basket. I vaulted over the basket wall and into the hot air balloon, eagerly awaiting take off. He goosed the propane levers and the balloon drifted skyward.
There’s no feeling of speed or rush of wind against your face. Ballooning is a silent affair and there’s no blaring of an engine or honking of a car horn to wreck the serenity of your journey. The only noise present is the periodic blast of the hot air burner and the feeling of warmth on your head and neck that accompanies it. The views were amazing and time just stood still whilst floating weightlessly in the air.
But alas, you can’t stay in the air forever, and with the wind starting to pick up, Captain Tom told us it was time to head back down to earth. The landing process isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s something unnatural about seeing the ground rushing up to meet you, not to mention having heard several stories of balloon baskets tipping over and getting dragged across the ground. Captain Tom was up to the challenge, however, as he touched down onto dry land with a soft thump.
Upon landing, we folded up the canvas monstrosity and loaded up all of the equipment into the trailer. We were blessed with a first hot air balloon pin, recited the balloon flier’s prayer, and toasted the occasion with a flute of champagne.
If you haven’t ever had the pleasure of riding in a hot air balloon, I can’t recommend it enough. You will understand why people are so attracted to flying balloons and attending these hot air balloon festivals all across the United States. You will probably get addicted too, and that is understandable. But if you happen to be a volunteer crew member, as we were, get ready to work. There is much more prep involved than you think, and it takes a lot to get those big things in the air.
All of the work makes it that much sweeter when you feel the happiness and serenity that inevitably comes when you are 1,000 feet up in the air.